Maybe I’m just cranky, but I thought There Will Be Blood was overrated. Don’t get me wrong — I thought it was really, really, really good, great even. But if the Oscar comes down to a battle between this and No Country for Old Men, I’m giving it to the Coen Bros., dudes.
Obviously there were some big, epic themes at work in the movie, Oscar-worthy themes. And all the acting was amazing — sure, I squirmed in my seat a few times when Paul Dano started ranting, but I think that’s what we were supposed to do. The beginning was great, all the oil drilling sequences were oddly thrilling … yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff here. And I really enjoyed the threatening title — the movie promised blood, and it delivered.
But ultimately, when I walk out of the theater, I asked myself, “what was the point?” And I can’t figure it out. Sure, this was made to entertain, but what’s the message? Not everything needs to have a message, but the movie had that epic vibe, and when you think “epic Oscar contender,” you think message. (Spoilers ahead.) I just think I would have enjoyed it more if Daniel Day-Lewis’s character started out as a mostly moral person, and then degenerated when corrupted by greed. Yes, I know that would be a much more conventional film. But without that character transformation, you’re left with the portrait of a sociopath, and that to me is a tad underwhelming.
To be sure, the character had a lot of contradictions — he’s affectionate with his son, feels guilt when he sends him away, overreacts when the son ultimately starts a new life apart from him. This contrasted with his expressed desire to live absolutely alone, that he hates all people. He also has this deep attachment to family, as evidenced by his confessions to his “half-brother” and subsequent violent reaction to the truth — even though he abandoned his true family in pursuit of riches. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, but … but … why? It’s not a corruption thing; the man was terrible to begin with! So why, then?
I also would’ve enjoyed a more dramatic clash of the titans-ish war between Day-Lewis and Dano, but there wasn’t really enough parity between the two. Deluded Narcissist vs. Batshit Crazy = Crazy wins every time. So, yeah, I was entertained, but I wasn’t blown away.
Whereas, with No Country for Old Men, you also have a man struggling in vain against a sociopath, but the emotions elicited in the viewer are completely different, and the themes are clear. Tommy Lee Jones character expresses everything we’re supposed to be thinking about: the choice to become a part of violence, the unpredictability of life — at one point he says, “even in the contest between man and cow, the issue is not certain.” Which sheds a lot of light on that movie’s ending. I’m not saying everything has to be completely spelled out, ambiguity is okay. But I like to be able to figure out why the screenwriter decided this story had to be told.
The final complaint I have about There Will Be Blood, and it’s a tiny one, is the score that everyone’s raving about. It’s a personal thing, but I didn’t like some of the choices. The really dissonant strings blaring really bothered me — I felt like it was cheating. It’s much easier to create a creepy mood with loud dissonant violins blaring in your ears, very unsettling. It’s much more difficult to do that with silence, or a subtler score. In a lot of ways, it was like taking a Hitchcock movie score and pushing it too far — when you think of Vertigo, you hear those creepy strings yelling at you, and you’re like “tense!” but then the mood of the music changes and through repetition, creates this great sense of foreboding. But in this movie, it was like: “hey, check out these mountains. They’re evil mountains, because the violins are now screeching in your ears. Oh hey, here’s our protagonist, look at him digging. Crap, he broke his leg. You’re starting to identify with him, aren’t you? DON’T! He’s BAD! And you can tell because the LOUD ASS VIOLINS are back!” That being said, I really liked the score in other parts of the movie, subtle and creepy.
In conclusion: There Will Be Blood, brilliant but flawed. No Country for Old Men, just brilliant.
As a self-proclaimed television aficionado, you’d think I’d be more upset about the writers strike. Let’s face it, aside from the So You Think You Can Dance fetish, I’m pretty much only interested in scripted television. I should be crying my eyes out. But while I’m following the strike coverage religiously (Deadline Hollywood Daily, dudes), I’m perfectly content to miss out on the 2008 season. Doesn’t bother me at all. So what’s going on here?
1. A really weak pilot season. None of the year’s new shows were particularly thrilling. The only ones I still watch regularly are Dirty Sexy Money and Pushing Daisies, and I sort of want to love those shows more than I actually do, you know? I loved Mad Men, but it finished its run mid-fall. My parents adore The Big Bang Theory. It’s cute, but I don’t need to watch it every week. They’re more into it, I decided, because they don’t know any super geeks. I do, so watching fictional geeks is considerably less thrilling. So, yeah. Big yawn to the new shows. And I have extremely low expectations for the ones yet to air (The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cashmere Mafia, whatever).
2. No exciting cliffhangers. As for the other shows I watch, I’m happy to press the pause button on their current plotlines. In previous years, I was into heavily serialized shows like Veronica Mars, Alias and Lost. I would’ve been irate if the networks put Logan in jail or left Vaughn caught in the throes of some Rambaldi device and then left me hanging for months on end. But this year, I don’t really have a must-see heart-pounding drama. I love Friday Night Lights, but c’mon, it’s just football. Heroes is the only show around with life-or-death stakes, and I hate to point this out to you, but Heroes is mediocre. It’s exciting occasionally, and some of the people are pretty, but it’s never awesome. So, yeah, Heroes going off the air for months? I’ll survive.
As for the softer dramas — Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty — no big cliffhangers there either. Sure, McDreamy is flirting with the new nurse, but we the viewers know a stupid plot twist when we see one. It’s not like Meredith has her hand stuck in Bomb Guy’s chest. Now there’s a cliffhanger! Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be as emotionally involved with Grey’s Anatomy again, even if they taped Christina to the front of a speeding train or something. You can’t top Bomb Guy. It’s fourth season, the show’s peaked. It’s all downhill from here.
There’s nothing crazy going on with the half-hour comedy romantic subplots, either — and that’s the Catch-22 with comedies. They’re more accessible to viewers, but people won’t skip happy hour to go home and watch except in two situations: the show’s attained cult social status, or some folks on the show are about to make out. Romantic tension is key. For example, 30 Rock is my favorite show. I’m obsessed. But I’m willing to DVR it. Last season, DVR was unacceptable; I had to watch in real time — because Floyd and Liz were going to hook up. Same thing with Jim and Pam on The Office: they’re together now, so we can all take a deep breath and relax. I can even relax all the way to 2009. As long as I’m assured these shows will come back eventually, I’m happy.
3. College basketball. I mostly watch ACC games during the regular, and this means I’m woefully underinformed when March Madness rolls around. When it comes to the Big East, I’ll end up picking teams with stupid mascot names for my bracket, crap like that. Because normally I’m watching too much TV already to have time for SportsCenter — but this year, there won’t be any good TV to get in the way! It’s all college hoops all the time, baby! (Apologies for channeling Dickie V.)
4. The writers are right.
5. The Wire. I’ve never seen it! I’m going to rent it! I’m pretty excited about it!
I watched the return of the late shows last night — loved that Conan seemed to play by the rules; while clearly there was planning about what went on the air, it didn’t seem as “written” as the Leno material did. And Dave was fantastic, continuing to publicize the writers strike while keeping the material hilarious. Hey, I guess that’s what professional writers are good for!